OSHA has ordered Orlando’s SeaWorld marine park to change the ways in which trainers and orcas interact following the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau.
Brancheau drowned in February 2010 after a “killer whale” named Tilikum pulled her under the water before dozens of horrified spectators. It took park workers 45 minutes to control Tilikum and recover Brancheau’s body from the pool.
Now instead of swimming with orcas, riding on their backs and being flung into the air off their noses, trainers must stay on dry land, separated from the whales by a glass barrier. Making the case for fewer restrictions on its popular orca shows, SeaWorld argued to OSHA that Brancheau’s death was unforeseeable because its orcas are so well trained and normally so well behaved.
However, OSHA investigators found that orcas have been involved in four deaths at North American marine parks—and that Tilikum had been present in three of those cases.
In addition to changing its orca show safety procedures, SeaWorld must pay a $12,000 fine. Meanwhile, the park is exploring ways to safely return trainers to the whale pool, including development of a pool floor that can be raised in an emergency to beach a rogue orca.